Friday, January 05, 2007

Telegraph critique: Part 2


This is a prequel to the previous post, in which I logged in real time the trouble I have been having in getting comments onto Telegraph blogs.
In fact, this has been going on for a long time, far too long, but I don't intend to bore you with a long litany of complaints. Instead, I will describe here events in the 48 hours that preceded the most recent problem re Ben Fenton's blog, and which finally made me realize that the time had come to make a stand against the Telegraph's continuing perverseness over the matter of readers' comments.

There have been some ill-considered editorials in the Telegraph in recent months ( OK, so that's a personal view, but that's what a blog is for). None was more misjudged than the line taken in the Jan 3 editorial entitled " Time for Prescott to go". Prescott you may recall gave a TV interview in which he condemned what happened at the Saddam execution. The Telegraph described this as wading into a "delicate diplomatic issue", and called (not for the first time) for his immediate sacking.

Some of us might feel that Prescott should have been stripped of his Deputy Premiership as well as departmental responsibilities a long time ago, well before his much-publicized shenanigans with the lady civil servant came to light.

The man is not just predatory, but downright incompetent. But on this particular issue, namely the disgraceful scenes at Saddam's execution, captured on mobile phones, Jabba the Hutt seemed finally to have got something right.

So the Telegraph's spotlight on his angry responses, given in a live interview with aggressive inquisitors, and using them to attack his state of mind, indeed his sobriety, seemed like a bit of seedy political opportunism.

Given that Blair & Bush invaded Iraq ostensibly to get rid of Saddam, or merely his illusory WMD, how come the fate of that dictator has suddenly become a delicate diplomatic issue ?

There are no prizes for guessing what would have happened to the present Shia-dominated government in Iraq if Saddam had ever been able to wangle a release, and rebuilt his Sunni/Baathist power-base. The Telegraph totally misrepresented the issue as one involving walking on eggshells. Living with a human time-bomb would seem a better analogy !

So here's the response I sent under Comments at about 17:00, London time, on 3rd Jan :

I didn't see the Prescott interview, but I did see your headline yesterday in which you referred to him "wading in". That was after your own editorial condemnation, so it left me wondering if there was a new irregular verb in the English language, namely "to condemn" (I condemn, you create, he wades in).

I hold no brief for Prescott: he is unfit for public office. But on this occasion, his instincts were right. This is more than a delicate diplomatic matter, as you describe it. It's an issue that goes to the heart of our concept of justice and human dignity. The obscene taunting, the use of mobile phones to capture a man's responses in the last degrading seconds of his life, have cheapened Iraq's judicial process. Reluctantly, I formed the view some time ago that the Iraqis for the most part deserved to have Saddam Hussein as their leader, and the events at those gallows simply confirms that view.

PS For the record, I believed it was right that in this exceptional case Saddam should have been executed (to remove the fear that he might one day return and exact terrible revenge). But I also considered that his request for a "soldier's death" by firing squad should have been respected.

A string of new comments appeared, abruptly terminated mid-afternoon (before mine was even sent) with one by "Jerry" at 15.01. Many shared my view, namely that the Telegraph had got it seriously wrong . Maybe the Editors then decided they had taken enough flak for one day.

But that same leader is still accessible, inviting comments, which will now fail to appear. In other words, the Telegraph editors have decided enough has been said, but are too squeamish, apparently, to put up a notice to the effect that correspondence is now closed.

Thanks heavens for the personal blog, then , where one's ignored or rejected comments can be placed into the public domain. My present readership is probably too small to have an immediate effect, but casual googling has shown that things that one wrote about weeks or months ago can resurface through someone researching a particular issue or grievance.

I had intended to end this by relating the experience of posting to Shane Richmond's blog, also on the 3rd Jan, which might be of interest to those of us who followed Colin Randall from the Telegraph into the blogging wilderness. But this post is already long enough as it is. Expect a third and (for now) final report on the Telly's erratic moderators by tomorrow at the latest.

PS Still no reply from Ben Fenton or Shane Richmond to my emails, alerting them (as a courtesy) to these unflattering comments re the Telegraph's so-called moderation.

PPS Monday 8th Jan: Is this the most redundant headline of all time ( from today's BBC homepage):

Trial to resume without Saddam

The genocide trial of six former Iraqi officials is due to resume in Baghdad without their co-defendant Saddam Hussein, who was hanged on 30 December.


richard of orléans said...

Colinb, you make considerable effort to ensure that points of view contrary to your personal opinions, do not receive an airing on your blog. Then why pray, do you have some right of response to the editorials published in the DT?

Do I detect a breath (maybe just a few molecules, but it's there)of fresh air creeping into your opinions? Is the liberated environment of France leading you to question the sagacity of the English establishment? Are you finding the practice of opinions set in stone handed down from on high, stultifying? If so you are embarking on a frustrating journey, you are up against the most imovable force in Christendom.

Toby said...

I don't think it's censorship, I think there is a technical problem with the comments on Telegraph blogs. Comments I have sent to add to my own blog have not appeared and several friends have had the same experience. the Telegraph blogs people tell me they are looking into it.

Toby Harnden

ColinB said...

Well now, that is interesting, Toby. Thanks for taking the trouble to write.

I've written most of tomorrow's third part of this diatribe(triatribe?) but in the interests of balance I'll include a mention of your experience. Let's hope there's an innocent explanation, and that something can done to sort this problem.

It's not only news that is a highly perishable commodity: the same could be said for comments to Telly blogs, given the speed they slip from view !

What complicates matters is the Telegraph's infuriating policy of moderating comments on a "last come-first served" basis. It increases the chance of an early submission getting mislaid (or whatever). It also means one is inhibited from lodging a protest, for fear of looking silly if it then appears later.

Shane Richmond assured me in an email before Christmas that it only takes a few minutes for the moderators to work back through a backlog. On a good day, perhaps Shane (if you're reading this), but it's not the good days we're talking about here.

ColinB said...

It's now 8th Jan, 9.50 am London time, and the Telegraph has just refreshed the Comments section of its blogs. And guess what ? All the new comments are dated today. There is not a single new comment dated for yesterday (Sunday) or for the latter part of Saturday.

Is that because none were received ? No, because I sent one on Saturday and one yesterday, neither of which has appeared. Censorship, or someone (or a system) that can't be bothered to clear the complete backlog ?

Here's the one that I sent Saturday (that might interest Toby Harnden, if he's still reading this):
Title: Watch this space

Your blog, Toby, is presently billed on today's Telegraph home page as "Borrow your aphorisms wisely". But when it first appeared yesterday it was different - something about "colourful language", as I recall. Now it's "Bush's Flaming Turd".

You (or more likely your sub-eds) must be causing havoc among those RSS feeds and search engines.

PS Can't think of an apposite or witty title just at this moment. Will have to get back to you later in the day.

Nothing there that warrants censorship, surely, unless the New Model Army at the Telegraph has undergone a collective sense-of-humour bypass ! Or can't tolerate folk having a dig at their expense.

Not so long ago, someone writing for the Telly (I don't recall who) set up a "BBC watch". Maybe it's time someone did a "Telegraph watch". An organization that constantly (and rightly) criticizes Government etc for hypocrisy, incompetence, dirty deeds etc can hardly complain if it's judged by its own declared standards.

Louise said...

Colin, remember in the 'good old days' when we used to scuffle on Colin Randall's Telegraph blog? It was the same problem - if you didn't blog betweem 1300 and 1700 nothing appeared until the next day (if it hadn't been blue-pencilled) and nothing was published on the weekend.

Very courageous of you to continue with the Telly blogs - there are so many of them now (most of which are crap) - if you blink they disappear! It would appear they have disposed of the most interesting blogs (and the journalists who wrote them) and they have been replaced by endless sport blogs, a really silly one on 'me and my bike' and some poor girl who is, I suppose, a Telly journalist (and therefore one assumes has a basic grounding in English language and literature) who was busy telling all the other week that she was 'trying' to read 'War and Peace' - don't they teach classics in schools/unis any more in England?

ColinB said...

I'd nearly finished composing something that might be of interest to you, Louise, re the new regime at the Telegraph, when my internet connection froze and I lost everything. I'll have another go later.

But here's something of interest. A few minutes ago the number of comments on Peta Thorneycroft's Zimbabwe Hellhole blog

suddenly jumped from 2 to 4. But the new one's were not today's, like the first two, but yesterday's. In fact they are the only ones from yesterday to appear so far. It rather confirms my hunch that someone is being deliberately slow in clearing the weekend backlog.

One of the two new ones is from Swatantra Nandawar, who is a regular commentator. Maybe he's been sounding off, as I have these last few days, and he finally got those moderators to clear at least some of the backlog.

No, it's not necessarily censorship, as you say Toby, but it might just as well be, if those moderators continue to get away with this kind of thing. But the two comments I sent at the weekend have yet to appear.

ColinB said...

PS 18:00 London time

My comment posted on Ceri Radford's jargon blog

has just this minute finally appeared, two days after sending .

If this is the Telegraph's idea of fair play - to moderate on a first come, last served basis, then here's someone who won't even bother in future to read the Telly blogs, far less post any comments.
Now what about the one I sent to Toby's blog on Saturday ? How long before that one appears ?

richard of orléans said...

So what's this, accusing the Telegraph of having thoughtlessly fired experienced journalists. Created an inefficient mess. Thrown in a bit of foul play, and suppression of free speech for good measure.

Sounds like somebody is trying to imitate the Delphe of Orléans

Louise said...

Oh, Oracle, would that be possible?

ColinB said...

Your mentioning the Telegraph blogs, Louise, kind of gives me a brainstorm of thoughts and remininiscences. There's simply not space here to deal with that sensory overload. Here's just a couple of observations. Erin Baker's biking blog will not be everyone's cup of tea. But the sight of an attractive female clad in leather astride a Harley Davidson does have its attractions to a certain type of male. She, almost uniquely, has quickly built up a personal following, which the Telly is pushing for all its worth. And there's a sense in which her blog is closer to the weblog ideal of following an individual's progress in detail over a period of time than the usual MSM way of using it for spasmodic titillation.

I share your view re Ceri Radford's blog. She took flak early on for her aimless ramblings in the world of literature. She does have an occasional good turn of phrase, as one would expect of a Cambridge graduate. But we all know why she was given her own blog: would you want to do her job (Chief blog moderator) ? She must take a lot of flak for things that are out of her control. Like the idiotic policy of moderating blogs on a first come-last served basis, of which Shane Richmond is very relaxed, too relaxed if you ask me (having said in a recent email that there are far more important things on his mind). Ceri probably has responsibility without authority - every office-worker's nightmare. And those guys and gals at Victoria & Canary Wharf (?) are probably all living in a climate of fear, wondering if they will still have jobs this time next week.

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